Life under Snorism
The following is based on an interview with SNOR historian Ivan Ivanovich Steinberg of the Volga German Republic. (31315).
PM: Dr. Ivan Steinberg has recently written a book, The SNOR Life: A Cultural History of the White Empire. First of all, Dr. Steinberg, it's a pleasure to have you here on the show.
- IS: Thank you, Petru.
PM: Let's get right down to it. Tell us, please: how was life for average people under Snorism? Besides a lack of freedom of speech, human rights and so on, how was day-by-day life? How much were people controlled by the State in their daily affairs?
- IS: I think that depends very much on the country, and in the case of Russia of the region where someone was living. Some parts of Russia were very poor, and life was hard there.
- People were undoubtedly complaining a lot, but on the other hand, they were happy as well. Sure, you couldn't freely express you opinion about politics, but why would you? With a regime like this, you could do two things: fight it, and end up in prison; or accept it, and enjoy the relative security it gives to you. You might even come to love it. The rules were tough, but if you observed them, there was basically nothing that could happen to you. You probably didn't get the right information about what was going on the world, but again, what would you need it for? There was a lot of propaganda - you went to sleep in the evening with Kolchak and got up in the morning with Kolchak, but that was just a part of everyday life you were used to.
- But like I said, it depends really on where you are. The Russian countryside, I believe, must have been incredibly poor, all the wealth being in the hands of a few rich landowners. Yet, I'm quite sure the SNOR has done a lot for the emancipation of Russian peasantry and working class.
PM: Speaking of poverty: let's talk about the Snorist economy. Right-wing dicatorships can often create a certain economical prosperity in some of their countries. In fact, right wing always seemed to me more atractive to economic growth. Did Snorist countries, or at least some of them, have a certain economic prosperity? If yes, did the average people profit from that prosperity? That could certanly have helped to sustain Snorism in some countries for decades as people seem more capable to accept not to be free if the economical situation is better.
- IS: Like I said, life under Snorism was not always easy, but in general cozy and fairly predictable. Most people definitely weren't rich, but their basic needs were generally fulfilled. That's at least my take on it.
- Mind, my focus has never been on Snorist economics. A good mental image of it is very similar to the kind of economy the Communist countries had. While Snorist economy definitely wasn't planned to the same degree, the state was in the middle of everything anyway. The state held a lot of monopolies, but more importantly, was always in control of any private-owned company.
PM: Were the ethnic minorities persecuted and forced to adopt the majority culture? Were minority languages were forbiden for public use?
- IS: Definitely so! At least within Russia, ethnic and religious minorities were frowned upon. Russian was obligatory on any level. Education in minority languages was forbidden, and so was publishing books in other languages but Russian. The government did all that lay within its possibilities to make minorities also minorities on their own territory: Russians were lured to move there by promising (and giving) them higher wages, members of those minorities were lured outside their territory (or were almost forced to move). Besides, Russian was promoted as THE language of culture, THE language of science, THE language you NEED to know fluently if you want to become somebody. Any other language was considered provincial and probably worthless. The SNOR succeeded pretty well in that, to such a degree that members of national minorities actually felt guilty, or were endowed with what I call a minority complex regarding the Russians.
- After the mid-sixties, this policy was changed a little: national territories were created, where at least nominally minorities had their own say over their own territory. Of course, this was pretty much fake, but now at least one shouldn't be afraid anymore to use his own language on the street.
- However, the seventies faced a return to older practices, and although the national territories weren't abolished, being a minority once again become a dangerous and unpleasant thing. This situation wouldn't change before Gorbachenko took over in Russia.
PM: I have often wondered about tourism in the SNOR bloc. How open to outsiders were Snorist countries? Were foreign people accepted as tourists? If yes, did these tourists were forced just to visit some spots in guided visits and never to visit the "real" country? And what about possible tourists from other Snorist countries? Could they travel within the "Snorist world"?
- IS: Western tourists were allowed to travel relatively freely, but be sure the authorities kept an eye on them, and made it pretty hard to visit the "real" country. Guided tours? Yes, probably.
- I'm inclined to believe that citizens of Snorist countries could travel pretty easily from one Snorist country to another. At least, under the condition that you had a passport, which you probably hadn't, and under the condition that you could afford travelling, which you probably couldn't.
- On the other hand, travelling OUTSIDE the snorist world was virtually impossible. To coin a phrase, the curtain was perhaps not made of iron, but it wasn't made of flowers either. People who were trying to escape and were caught, could meet quite a lot of trouble.
- It depends pretty much on the period, by the way. There were times when the government really couldn't care if people were moving away.
PM: And politically? Were Snorist countries (or at least some of them) closed to the outside world? If yes, what would be the most secretive countries?
- IS: That's a good one. Frankly, I don't know. Russia itself was pretty closed; finding out what was REALLY going on was the domain of Kremlin-watchers. I haven't really thought about countries being even more closed. Milteanu's Muntenia was pretty isolationistic, but "closed" is perhaps not the right description in this case.
- Most "closed" were probably Moldova and Ukraine, perhaps Belarus as well. Don't know about other countries.
PM: Snorism must make for a fascinating topic of study.
- IS: For those of us who lived through it, I feel it is essential to teach the lessons we can to the rest of the world. What happened in the Snorist world must never be repeated.
PM: Indeed. Thank you very much. My guest is Dr. Ivan Steinberg, and his book, The SNOR Life is on sale wherever the press is free.
- IS: (chuckles) Thank you for having me on.